Guys, don’t look now, but the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team has won two games in a row and is actually starting to resemble that Mike Brey offense we all fell in love with over the last 20 years.
Sure, the Irish’s two wins since losing at home to Boston College on 12/7 were against the Detroit Mercy Titans (1-9) and the currently-rebuilding UCLA Bruins, but ND still has been shooting the ball well from deep, playing good defense, taking care of the ball, and assisting on A LOT of baskets. Clearly, this team is at least capable of occasionally playing really well, and their confidence is starting to grow.
Now, Brey’s Boys face their final tough test before diving headfirst into 2020 and the meat of ACC play, facing off against the 10-1 Indiana Hoosiers in the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday.
The Hoosiers have flown under the radar and not been tested too much as of yet, but they have a lot of young talent and Archie Miller has his team looking dangerous as we near the end of December.
So, how will these two teams match up in Indy? Let’s discuss.
- This is the ninth annual Crossroads Classic, and Notre Dame has gone 4-4 in the first 8 such events, but 1-3 against Indiana (per Alan Wasielewski, Associate Athletics Communication Director)
- The Irish and Hoosiers will be meeting for the 73rd time today, with IU leading the all-time series 50-22; the teams first squared off in 1908 when Notre Dame defeated IU 21-20 in Bloomington (per Alan Wasielewski)
- This game features the #8 (Notre Dame, 1,888 wins) and #10 (Indiana, 1,876) winningest programs in college basketball history. The Irish are 14th in all-time winning percentage (.646) while the Hoosiers are 23rd (.636) (per Alan Wasielewski)
- IU is currently #32 overall in the KenPom.com rankings, with the #23 offense and #58 defense; the Irish, meanwhile, are #65, rating 77th on offense and 55th on defense
- Notre Dame leads the country in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.82, ahead of Richmond (1.58) and Iowa (1.57). The Irish are also averaging 9.7 turnovers and 12.1 personal fouls per game, good for best in the nation in turnovers and 2nd in fouls (per Alan Wasielewski)
- John Mooney leads the nation in rebounding with a 13.4 rebounds-per-game average, and is tied for second in the country with 8 double-doubles this year. He’s also the only player in Division I to average 14+ points and 13+ rebounds per game this season (per Alan Wasielewski)
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse — Indianapolis, Indiana
When: Saturday, December 21st at 12:00 PM ET
How to Watch:
- TV — ESPN with Jason Benetti (play-by-play) and Jimmy Dykes (analyst)
- Radio — Notre Dame Radio Network with Jack Nolan (play-by-play); also available locally on WSBT AM/FM and worldwide on und.com.
Indiana Hoosiers (10-1)
After a couple rebuilding seasons where they went 35-31, IU head coach Archie Miller appears to have the Hoosiers program on the up-and-up once again, considering their 10-1 start to this season.
Indiana hasn’t faced a ton of tough competition yet, but an early-season blowout win over the Florida State Seminoles was a nice little statement, and the Hoosiers also took down the Connecticut Huskies two games ago. Despite a 20-point loss at Wisconsin, Miller’s got his squad looking like a tourney team through the first 11 games.
Now, the Hoosiers bring their very good offense (#23 in KenPom, #20 in scoring, #18 in FG%) to Indianapolis to take on a Notre Dame squad that has finally started to gain a little momentum, albeit against a really bad Detroit Mercy team and a pretty bad UCLA Bruins squad last weekend.
The Irish will certainly face a tougher test than those two teams today, as the Hoosiers are led by some supremely talented young players. Trayce Jackson-Davis leads the way there, a blue-chip freshman forward with very good size and athleticism and the pedigree to boot (Jackson-Davis is the son of former Indiana Pacer Dale Davis).
Jackson-Davis enters this match-up averaging team-leading points, rebounds, and blocks totals (15.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.0 blocks per game) while also shooting a blistering 64.4% from the field. At 6’9”, the freshman will be a tough assignment for John Mooney, Juwan Durham, and Nate Laszewski down low, and Irish fans can certainly expect at least some of the same results as when Jalen Smith of Maryland dominated the Irish down low. Jackson-Davis is the real deal and will certainly be a factor in this game.
The Hoosiers have 4 total guys who average double figures in scoring, with the other three guys being a trio of veterans: forward Justin Smith and guards Al Durham and Devonte Green.
Smith is a 6’7” guy who adds some more size down low alongside Jackson-Davis, and his numbers reflect how he’s pretty darn productive and efficient offensively as well — he’s averaging 13.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 55.7% shooting so far this season.
Durham (6’4”) and Green (6’3”) are a couple lengthy guards who can score, dish the rock a bit, play a little defense on the perimeter, and shoot very well from the outside. Durham is averaging 12.8 points, 2.9 assists, 50% shooting, and 41% three-point shooting so far, while Green is adding 12.5 points, 2.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 45% shooting, and 42.5% shooting from long range.
Those two will certainly need to be locked up by the likes of Rex Pflueger, T.J. Gibbs, and Dane Goodwin, as they could do some serious damage raining threes, as well as getting into the lane and finding Jackson-Davis and Smith for buckets down low.
6’1” sophomore guard Rob Phinisee has had a great start to his second season, averaging 9.7 points, 4 assists, 46% shooting, and 41.7% three-point shooting this year. He will be the responsibility of Prentiss Hubb and Gibbs in this one, and if they slack a bit or don’t bring their A-games, he could easily do similar damage as Durham and Green, considering his shooting ability from the outside and his tendency to find open teammates for buckets.
Other key contributors for the Hoosiers include 6’11” forward Joey Brunk (7.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 55.9% FG), 6’7” forward Damezi Anderson (5.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 42.5% FG, 33% 3P), and 6’4” guard Armaan Franklin (4.4 ppg, 2.3 apg).
Defensively, the Hoosiers are nothing to write home about. They rank 146th in the country in scoring defense, 148th in FG% defense, 187th in 3P% defense, and 147th in turnovers forced. The key for them has definitely been owning the rebounding battle, as IU currently sits at 9th in rebounding margin.
The Irish will need to really crash the boards to try to get a few second chances, and also on the defensive end make sure they box out and don’t give an already very good shooting team more chances than necessary to score points. The Irish have been better this year on defense than they typically are, but are still, by no means, a strong defensive unit — ND is 80th in scoring defense, 66th in FG% allowed, 169th in 3P% defense, and 192nd in turnovers forced.
One thing that may be in ND’s favor: the Hoosiers are 169th in the country in turnovers committed per game. If the Irish can play their usual brand of clean basketball and focus on holding the Hoosiers to one shot attempt on most possessions, they may be able to hang around in this one, despite their own offensive woes (102nd in scoring offense, 258th in FG%, 142nd in 3P%, 183rd in rebound margin, 159th in offensive rebounds).
Overall, I expect the Hoosiers to play a strong brand of offensive basketball and to win the rebounding battle, but the Irish can truly win this game if they continue their strong shooting from the outside, take care of the ball, and limit second chances as best they can against such a strong rebounding team in the Hoosiers.
Hoosier to Watch
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Forward, Freshman
I wouldn’t be a true Indy guy or real Indiana Pacers fan if I didn’t choose Trayce Jackson-Davis as my Indiana Hoosier to watch in this one. Jackson-Davis is a local 5-star talent, having won Indiana Mr. Basketball last year while playing at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, IN.
Even more importantly, though, is that Jackson-Davis is the son of Indiana Pacers LEGEND Dale Davis, who was best known as being a tough and physical rebounder, one of the two Davises (the other being Antonio Davis) on some fantastic Pacers teams in the 1990s and early 2000s, and, of course, for more impressive things.
Jackson-Davis is a 6’9” power forward who is deadly-efficient shooting the ball (64% from the field) and who also is an exceptional rebounder (9.1 rpg) and shot-blocker (2 bpg). Just like Jalen Smith in the Maryland game, Jackson-Davis is precisely the kind of massive, physical, athletic big man who can give the Irish fits in the paint. The ND big men (Mooney, Durham, Laszewski) did pretty well against the height and length and physicality of UCLA last weekend, but Jackson-Davis will be a next-level test, considering he will likely be an NBA lottery pick in the summer of 2020.
Prentiss Hubb, Guard, Sophomore
Prentiss Hubb has to do two things simultaneously for the Irish to be a competitive team, and doing those two things simultaneously isn’t always easy.
Mike Brey has stressed time and again that the ND offense needs Hubb to be aggressive, hunt his shot, and attack the lane to make things happen, and yet Hubb is also the guy most likely to make some head-scratching decisions with the ball, taking some really bad shots or trying to make some risky passes on occasion.
The Irish will need Hubb to do a lot of offense creation, penetrating and kicking to shooters like T.J. Gibbs, Dane Goodwin, Nate Laszewski, etc., while also getting the ball to John Mooney on e block and attacking the hoop himself to make the Hoosiers respect him as a threat at the rim. If he can do all that while not making some boneheaded decisions and making the occasional three himself, the Irish could have a really good shot in this one.
Just about every reasonable bone in my body is yelling at me to pick the Hoosiers, considering the Irish are due to shoot poorly (especially in a big NBA arena against a big-name opponent) and Indiana has some very talented guys that the Irish will likely be overmatched against, in similar fashion to the Maryland game.
HOWEVER, I don’t enjoy writing about Mike Brey’s basketball program so much because I accept the reality of the Irish being less talented than their opponents a lot of the time and likely losing games like this.
Instead, I love writing about them because for the past 20 years, Brey’s teams have constantly given us pleasant surprises and at least a few stirring, unexpected wins over really good teams just about every season.
Everyone is so down on this team right now, but they’re definitely finding a bit of a groove right now, even if it was against bad competition. Why can’t they continue that hot shooting and beautiful offensive flow and stout defense in Indy today?
It’s time to go with my gut and see this Irish team win a game they shouldn’t, beginning to build a bit of a tournament resume and providing a huge injection of confidence heading into what will certainly be a tumultuous ACC season.
Notre Dame wins this one 76-72.